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|World champion Elena Pirozhkova seeks dominance at World Team Trials|
By Bryan Baumgartner USA Wrestling
Elena Pirozhkova wrestles Danielle Lappage of Canada at United 4 Wrestling. Photo by John Sachs.
STILLWATER, Okla. – To say Elena Pirozhkova has had a dominant season would be an understatement.
After winning the 2012 World Championship at 63 kg in September, Pirozhkova has won titles at the Dave Schultz Memorial International and the U.S. Open, defeated Junior World champion Danielle Lappage of Canada at United 4 Wrestling and defeated World Champion Ganna Vasilenko of Ukraine at the Battle at the Falls.
Pirozhkova will look to add to her impressive season as she is the number one seed at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. in the 2013 World Team Trials in Stillwater, Okla.
“I’ve been in this position multiple times, so it’s not new to me,” Pirozhkova said. “I just try to treat it like any other tournament. I still have to show up, make weight; I’ll watch the other matches and stay focused. The only difference is I only have to wrestle two matches at the end.”
Pirozhkova clinched a berth to the best of three finals at the Trials when she beat Erin Clodgo 1-0, 3-1 in the 2013 U.S. Open finals. She will now await the winner of the 63 kg/138.75 challenge tournament.
“It’s easy sometimes to get distracted and say, ‘oh I don’t have to do anything until the finals’ so I just want to stay as focused as I was for Nationals,” Pirozhkova said.
With one World title under her belt, Pirozhkova has heightened expectations for herself heading into this year’s Trials.
“I expect to win for sure. I’ve made the World Team multiple times now so I want to take my wrestling to the next level,” Pirozhkova said. “I don’t want to just win, I want to be dominant. With this new format I want to get techs and go out there and be dominant.”
National Women’s Freestyle coach Terry Steiner also recognizes that Pirozhkova is ready to take her talents up a knotch.
“I’m seeing more understanding from her that she always has to bring out her best. She can’t wrestle to the level of her competition; she’s the current World champ so not everyone is going to be at her level,” Steiner said. “She has to have a great performance regardless of her competition and a great performance in her eyes is total domination. She doesn’t want to be winning 1-0 in matches where she knows she can win 7-0. She needs to get the most out of herself in every match.”
Steiner believes that this sense of understanding Pirozhkova now has is attributed to her experiences wrestling for the U.S. World Team, winning a World Championship, and competing in the Olympics.
“I think she’s matured a lot into her role being the current World Champ,” Steiner said. “She realizes that there is a lot of responsibility that goes along with it and that goes with being a great leader and role model on and off the mat. She’s really taking her career into her own hands and is doing what she has to do to prepare.”
Much of that preparation for the World Team Trials has included getting used to the new rules that were implemented after the U.S. Open and that will be used in the Trials. Pirozhkova realizes there will have to be some adjustments made with the rule changes but it will not be a major factor in the overall wrestling.
“Condition will be a factor. With these new rules takedowns and turns are more of a factor so I’ll continue to work on that but wrestling is still wrestling,” Pirozhkova said. “I’ll continue to practice and work on my technique and focus more on par terre.”
The 63 kg challenge tournament at the Trials will feature a number of up and coming athletes competing for the chance to dethrone Pirozhkova in the finals.
“Erin Clodgo and Jen Page, who are the one and two seeds in the Challenge Tournament, will be my biggest competition,” Pirozhkova said. “I’m assuming both of them will wrestle in the finals of the Challenge Tournament for sure. If they don’t, I’d consider it a big upset.”
Steiner believes that the challenge tournament field is a strong one and that another wrestler to watch is Amanda Hendey, who placed fourth at the 2013 U.S. Open, and could definitely push all of the other competitors.
Following the Trials, Pirozhkova will head back to the practice room to prepare for a few international tournaments leading up to the World Championships (should she win in the finals at the World Team Trials).
“After this I’ll have a couple competitions before Worlds,” Pirozhkova said. “I’ll go to Spain and Poland which will be a good chance to wrestle more with the new rules and try the new technique I’ve been working on and get in good shape going into Worlds.”